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Sexual Assault: Who to Turn to for Help

Note: there is a new Sexual Assault web site developed by William & Mary. Please visit it at

Support for Sexual Assault Survivor

The purpose of this brochure is to provide information and assistance to sexual assault survivor and persons who may come into contact with a survivor.

Being forced into sexual activity-even if it is a date, a steady relationship, or a casual acquaintance - is still SEXUAL ASSAULT. Nothing a person does, says or wears gives anyone the right to commit an assault - sexually or otherwise.

Making decisions and regaining control are important to the healing process after an assault. The choice of how to proceed after the assault belongs solely to the survivor.

Here are some factors to consider:
Getting Help

While the university encourages reporting incidents of assault to the police, the survivor can get medical and emotional care without reporting to the police and can report to the police without going to court. The sexual assault can also be reported as quickly as possible, whether that be to an RA, the Counseling Center, the police, administrator or a local community agency such as AVALON.

Emotional trauma is severe after a sexual assault. The violation, loss of trust, and humiliation can have a serious long-term impact. It is not unusual for a person to withdraw, feel guilty or distrustful. However, there are many people who understand and places where support is available while recovering. One excellent source of support is the Sexual Assault Companion Program established jointly by the university and AVALON to help minimize the trauma associated with sexual assault.

Medical Attention

Even if the student ultimately decides not to report the assault to the police, it is still very important to seek medical attention immediately for possible internal injuries or sexually transmitted diseases. Also, the collection of medical evidence becomes critical in the event of prosecution. Therefore, it is important to seek medical attention promptly and to refrain from taking a shower, douching, washing hands, changing clothes, or changing sheets or furnishings before seeking medical help. This will prevent the destruction of valuable evidence. At the Health Center or Emergency Room, if circumstances permit, the doctor will collect hair samples, semen samples, and other evidence. The police will be contacted to take possession of these samples until the student makes a decision about pursuing charges or not.


Counseling is a very important step in helping someone who has been sexually assaulted regain control of her/his life. Sexual Assault is an extremely traumatic experience that needs professional attention. Several agencies in the area, both university and non-university affiliated, can be of assistance.

Support Resources

William & Mary Counseling Center: (757) 221-3620
The Center offers confidential and free professional or peer assistance in dealing with the trauma experienced by a student or by those close to a student who has been sexually assaulted. The staff includes male and female counseling/clinical psychologists. Calls received after 5:00 P.M. will be directed to the staff member on duty.

AVALON: (757) 258-5051, 24 hour Helpline
AVALON, a community help center for physically and sexually assaulted women, has several programs to help students who have been sexually assaulted. They include:

  • 24 hour Helpline, (757) 258-5051, that has trained staff and volunteers available any time, day or night, to provide support, information and referrals.
  • Individual counseling and support groups.
  • A safe shelter for survivors afraid to return home after an assault.
  • Accompaniment to the hospital, police department, and court, if needed.

Sexual Assault Companion Program: (757) 258-5051
By contacting the William & Mary Counseling Center or AVALON, the assaulted student will be assigned one or more companions who are trained volunteers available to support the student throughout her/his recovery and through the process of filing charges if this option is pursued.

Residence Life Staff: (757) 221-4314
Sometimes, it is easier to turn first to an RA or other Residence Life staff member for initial support and for assistance in finding out who else can help.

Student Affairs Staff: (757) 221-2510
The Dean of Students can advise a student, or friends of a student, who has been sexually assaulted of all support services available as well as provide counsel concerning how to pursue charges of misconduct through the university judicial system.

Reporting to the Police

If the assault occurs on university property, it should be reported to the Campus Police. Assaults which occur off-campus should be reported to the appropriate jurisdiction (usually Williamsburg, James City County, or York County Police).

The Campus Police believe that a student who has been sexually assaulted deserves the right to a complete professional investigation before making a decision about how to proceed with the case. When the Campus Police are contacted, an officer

  • assists in obtaining medical assistance and counseling for the assaulted student
  • conducts a preliminary investigation
  • gathers physical evidence/proceeds with investigation
(Note:  Female officers are available should the survivor wish one to handle the case.)

An investigation is conducted and the results are discussed with the student along with rights and options. Thereafter, the sexually assaulted student is asked to decide how and even whether to proceed with the case. Identity is kept confidential until the student decides to take action. The student is kept informed of the progress of the case and above all, is treated with respect and consideration for personal welfare and safety.

Even if charges are not pursued, reporting the assault is a way to regain a sense of personal power and control by enabling the assaulted student to do something about the crime committed. Furthermore, information provided helps in the prevention of rape and protection of other potential survivors. (Most rapists are repeat offenders.)

Filing Charges

Charges may be filed within the university judicial system and civil or criminal charges can be brought through the justice system.

University Judicial System

In the Student Handbook,the university has specific provisions against sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct includes sexual assault or sexual intercourse, without consent.

Sexual assault includes (but is not limited to) any intentional touching by the accused, either directly or through clothing, of the survivor's genitals, breasts, thighs, or buttocks without the survivors's consent. Sexual assault also includes touching or fondling of the accused by the survivor when they are forced to do so against their will. Sexual assault is punishable by penalties ranging from probation to dismissal.

Sexual intercourse without consent, including rape (whether by acquaintance or stranger), sodomy, or other forms of sexual penetration is prohibited and is punishable by either contingent dismissal or permanent dismissal.

If charges are filed within the university judicial system, the following special procedures will apply:

  1. Both the accuser and the accused are each entitled to declare whether the hearing will be by judicial panel or administrative staff. If the accuser and the accused do not select the same type of hearing, the Vice President of Student Affairs, or the designee, will determine the type of hearing to be held. The administrator who makes this decision will not hear the case.
  2. If the administrative hearing is selected, the hearing will be conducted by two members of the administrative staff, one male and one female, appointed by the Vice President for Student Affairs or designee.
  3. The accuser may have present at the hearing a personal advisor of his/her choosing. The advisor will not participate in the hearing process and will be bound by the rules of confidentiality governing the hearing.
  4. The accuser is permitted but not required to be present throughout the hearing. The accuser may present the case in whole or part, in lieu of the university presenter.
  5. The accuser and the accused have a right not to have his or her unrelated past sexual history discussed in the hearing.
  6. The accuser will receive written notification of the verdict of the hearing and the penalty imposed.
  7. The accuser and the accused both have the right to appeal. The circumstances under which this can occur are detailed in the Student Handbook.

Note: University regulations specifically prohibit the harassment, abuse, threat or intimidation of any witness or party to an incident.

Legal System

Because of the serious nature of acts of sexual misconduct, the university encourages students to pursue appropriate remedies in the State judicial system.

If the assaulted student chooses to file criminal charges through the Commonwealth of Virginia court system, the following procedures can be expected:

After the formal investigation by the police, an interview will be conducted with the Commonwealth Attorney to decide whether there is a basis for prosecution.

If the case proceeds through the court system, staff from the Survivor Assistance Program are available for support and guidance. This program is operated by the Commonwealth Attorney's Office to help insure the fair and compassionate treatment of the crime survivor. The Survivor Assistance Director is there to provide:

  • help in court preparation including court tours and an explanation of the criminal justice system
  • help in applying for crime survivor compensation
  • case status updates
  • escort and support while in court
  • notification of final disposition of case
  • referrals, if needed, to AVALON, social services, magistrate, police, and other survivor assistance services.
There is also the option of bringing civil charges, an option which should be explored with an attorney.

Third Party Reporting System

Finally, when someone who has been sexually assaulted comes to you, encourage the person to report the incident, to seek medical attention, and to get counseling.

If the person will not report the assault, anyone can inform the university an assault has occurred without naming those involved by using the third party reporting system form available from the Counseling Center, Health Center, Residence Life staff, Campus Police, or the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. Completed forms should be brought to the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.

A Word to Friends
  • Believe what you are being told.
  • Don't pass judgment, don't comment on what could have been done differently.
  • Be supportive of the decisions made by the survivor.
  • Be prepared to listen.
  • Seek counseling or support for yourself.

For more information on helping a friend who has been sexual assaulted, please see our "Helping a Survivor of Sexual Assault" brochure.